A television show can be brilliant and clever and hilarious -- and still inappropriate for young children. That's doubly important for a cartoon, which children -- and the show's childish creators -- quite naturally see as a medium made for them. Sometimes, "Family Guy" can be hilarious. Occasionally, it is even clever. It is also absolutely inappropriate for children. Yet when an organization like the Parents Television Council, which simply wants to restore a sense of decency to this increasingly squalid medium, says so -- out comes the hate mail from Hollywood.
Consider recent plot lines like evil baby Stewie shooting his mother full of holes with a submachine gun. Or his father then shooting Stewie to death. How does a 5-year-old boy or girl process those scenes? MacFarlane doesn't seem to spend two seconds thinking about it, but people who worry about children's media intake certainly do. Apparently one can worry about but not voice that concern without receiving hate mail from Hollywood. So be it.
MacFarlane doesn't just unleash his hate-mail style in interviews. He also unloads it on TV. Let's revisit the "Family Guy" show on "gay marriage" that spurred MacFarlane's outburst. Part of the plot has one of the show's regular characters urged by a girl to join the Young Republicans, which in this episode goes by the acronym SARS, like the deadly respiratory virus. The girl describes their mission like this: "We perpetuate the ideal that Jesus chose America to destroy non-believers and brown people."
That line is not hilarious satire. That is hate mail. It may be airing on national television instead of being scrawled on a pad and put in an envelope, but it's still hate mail. It smears Christian conservatives not only as violent racists out to destroy "brown people" but attributes to them the kill-the-infidel echoes of a homegrown Christian version of al-Qaeda.
Hollywood millionaire moguls like MacFarlane are notoriously awful at realizing that free speech is a two-way street. He expects to be adored wherever he goes, even if making vicious fun of everyone else is his daily bread. He may be a television success. But in the world of public debate, he's not a player. He's the guy scribbling graffiti in the bathroom stall.